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Pope puts virtue and family at center of World Food Day message

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis voiced his concerns about the world’s approach to food, and called for a global attitude of virtue towards nutrition in his World Food Day message to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization on Wednesday, Oct. 16. 

The theme of this year’s World Food Day is “Our Actions Are Our Future. Healthy Diets for a #ZeroHunger World,” which Pope Francis said he hoped would serve as a reminder that throughout the world, people are not eating in a healthy manner.  

“It is a cruel, unjust and paradoxical reality that, today, there is food for everyone and yet not everyone has access to it, and that in some areas of the world food is wasted, discarded and consumed in excess, or destined for other purposes than nutrition,” the pope said in a message sent to the Director General of the UNFAO, Mr. Qu Dongyu, on Oct. 16.

Francis said that while steps have been taken to help solve the issues of malnutrition and hunger, the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has not yet been fully implemented worldwide.

While 820 million people in the world suffer from hunger, nearly the same number of people are overweight-- these he said were ”victims of improper dietary habits.” 

“We are in fact witnessing how food is ceasing to be a means of subsistence and turning into an avenue of personal destruction.” 

The pope said he was concerned that obesity is to be found not only in rich countries, but in poorer countries where people are imitating diets that come from other more developed areas, and damaging their health in the process.

“Due to poor nutrition, pathologies not only from the imbalance caused by ‘excess,’ often resulting in diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other forms of degenerative diseases, but also by ‘deficiency,’ as documented by an increasing number of deaths from anorexia and bulimia,” said Francis. Anorexia and bulimia are eating disorders. 

To fight this, the pope called for a “conversion in our way of living and acting,” and said that improved nutrition is “an important starting point.” He said that the only way to fight these “nutritional disorders” is by creating a lifestyle that is “inspired by gratitude for the gifts we have received” along with “the adoption of a spirit of temperance, moderation, self-control, and solidarity.” 

By embracing these virtues, Francis said that people will become more concerned for one another, and “grow in a fraternal solidarity that seeks the common good and avoids the individualism and egocentrism” that perpetuates societal ills. This will further lead to a healthier relationship with oneself, others, and the environment. 

The pope said the family, particularly farming families, has a “primary role to play” in accomplishing this societal shift. The family, he said, teaches how to embrace the earth, without abusing it. Through the family, “we also discover the most effective means for spreading lifestyles respectful of our personal and collective good,” Francis added. 

He praised the “increasing interdependence of nations” as a way for people to put aside other interests and create a sense of trust and friendship, particularly related to food concerns. Citing his environmental encyclical letter Laudato Si, he said that there needs to be a promotion of institutions and initiatives that assist the poor with access to basic resources, and that the current system is failing the neediest. 

In his message, Francis criticized “the logic of the market” and the quest for profit, which he said resulted in food being “regulated to a mere commercial product subject to financial speculation,” instead of being seen as something with “cultural, social and indeed symbolic importance.” 

Instead of taking this view of food, Francis suggested shifting views so that care of the human person is more of a concern than a profit margin. This approach, he said, will result in more effective programs that will solve the issues of hunger and obesity. 

“When priority is given to the human person, humanitarian aid operations and development programs will surely have a greater impact and will yield the expected results,” said Pope Francis.

“We must come to realize that what we are accumulating and wasting is the bread of the poor.” 

Vatican communications official: Carved figure at Amazon synod not Virgin Mary

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2019 / 07:18 am (CNA).- Fr. Giacomo Costa, a communications official for the Amazon synod, said Wednesday a wooden figure of a nude pregnant woman, which has been present at events related to the synod, is not the Virgin Mary, but is instead a female figure representing life.

“It is not the Virgin Mary, who said it is the Virgin Mary?” Costa said Oct. 16 at a press conference for the Amazon synod, a meeting taking place in the Vatican Oct. 6-27 on the ministry of the Church in the region.

Costa referred to a controversial image of a female figure which was part of a tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican Oct. 4. The same figure has been present in the vicinity of the Vatican at various events happening during the synod, under the “Casa Comun” initiative.

The wooden figure of a pregnant woman has been described as both a Marian image and as a traditional indigenous religious symbol of the goddess Pachamama, or Mother Earth.

When told “many people have said” the woman is a figure of the Virgin Mary, Costa added “‘many have said,’ okay, as you like, but I have never heard that.”

“There is nothing to know. It is an indigenous woman who represents life,” he stated, adding that his information commission will look for more information about it, but “it is a feminine figure” and is “neither pagan nor sacred.”

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican communications dicastery, said Wednesday he sees the figure as “representing life.”
 
“Fundamentally, it represents life. And enough. I believe to try and see pagan symbols or to see... evil, it is not,” he said, adding that “it represents life through a woman.” He equated the image to that of a tree, saying “a tree is a sacred symbol.”

Ruffini said that interpretation is his personal opinion, and he was not speaking as the head of Vatican communications or synod communications.

He added that “We know that some things in history have many interpretations” and he would look for more information about the image and inform journalists about what he finds out.

Cristiane Murray, vice director of the Holy See press office, added that more information about the wooden figure should be sought from REPAM or the organizers of the events where the image has been present.

Mauricio Lopez, REPAM's executive secretary, told CNA after the press conference that he could not comment on the press conference, directing CNA to Costa's remarks, as the "official spokesperson" of the Synod.

REPAM (the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network), a group backed by the bishops’ conferences in Latin America, describes itself as an advocacy organization for the rights and dignity of indigenous people in the Amazon. The network is involved in operations for the synod assembly and is one of 14 groups on the organizing committee of the Casa Comun initiative, which is promoting more than 115 events hosted by a loose network of groups, connected in varying degrees to the Catholic Church.

Mississippi pro-lifers file suit against abortion clinic protest restrictions

Jackson, Miss., Oct 16, 2019 / 02:41 am (CNA).- Pro-life advocates in Jackson, Mississippi have filed a lawsuit against a new city ordinance that would restrict protesters’ ability to approach people and demonstrate outside abortion clinics.

The appellants, who are volunteers for a national organization called Sidewalk Advocates for Life, often congregate outside the state’s last abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That facility performs abortions up to 16 weeks.

Sidewalk Advocates for Life trains volunteers to offer women alternatives to abortion, and says that nearly 7,000 women nationwide have freely chosen not to abort in the past five years thanks to their advocacy. They describe their ministry as “prayerful and peaceful.”

The ordinance prohibits protesters from approaching within eight feet of another person— unless that person consents— for the purpose of handing a leaflet, displaying a sign, engaging in oral protest, or educating or counseling a person within 100 feet of a healthcare facility.

The Jackson City Council adopted the ordinance Oct. 1, and it is scheduled to take effect Oct. 31, the AP reports.

The ordinance also prohibits congregations or demonstrations within 15 feet of a healthcare facility entrance, as well as shouting and amplified sound with 100 feet as long as the area is marked as a “quiet zone.”

The lawsuit, filed by members of Sidewalk Advocates for Life and the Mississippi Justice Institute, notes that pro-life protesters often have to shout in order to be heard above the loud music that the abortion clinic plays in order to drown out the protesters’ speech.

Violators of the new ordinance could face a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 90 days in prison, or both.

The lawsuit argues that the ordinance has a chilling effect on the protesters’ speech, prevents them from engaging in peaceful assemblies, and “irreparably harms persons patronizing the abortion facility by denying them access to useful information regarding the alternatives to abortion.”

The suit also argues that the ordinance is a content-based regulation of speech, since it prohibits certain speakers from participating in certain types of speech while allowing others to engage in the same type of speech.

Brett Kittredge, director of marketing and communications with Mississippi Center for Public Policy, told CNA that the lawsuit could make its way to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The Mississippi Constitution provides for an even stronger protection of free speech than the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he said.

“It says in our constitution that [free speech] is sacred— that it is something we hold with the utmost respect, treasure, and reverence,” Kittredge told CNA.

“And so we feel...that this is a free speech issue above all else. It's not about whether you support one issue or the other, whether you take one side or another on abortion, it's a matter of should people have the right to assemble, have the right to speak freely and convince others of their speech, and we believe that's central to a free society.”

Sidewalk Advocates for Life says in Jackson alone, 30 women this year have turned away from the abortion clinic and sought alternatives in the area.

“The sidewalk counselors aren't there to yell at anybody, aren't there to scream at anybody, they're just there to tell people that don't know there is another option that you don't have to do this,” Kittredge said.

“So we are ready to challenge this, and we are obviously looking forward to a positive ruling in favor of our clients.”

The AP notes that a federal appeals court in February 2019 upheld the constitutionality of a 2009 Chicago ordinance that created an 8-foot buffer zone outside medical facilities, while several other cities, such as Philadelphia, have had buffer zone ordinances struck down.

A 2007 Massachusetts “buffer zone” law forbade sidewalk counseling within 35 feet of an abortion clinic, but the Supreme Court in June 2014 unanimously ruled it a violation of the First Amendment. The law imposed “serious burdens” on the counselors, the court wrote, adding that sidewalks have traditionally been a forum for “the exchange of ideas.”

Colorado and Montana both have buffer zone laws in effect. Across the Atlantic, the High Court of England and Wales upheld a buffer zone order around a London abortion clinic in a July 2018 decision, which pro-life advocates are now appealing.

The appellants in the Mississippi lawsuit have requested a hearing date for the parties to appear and present oral arguments.

As Angola drought continues, Catholic Church calls for emergency declaration

Luanda, Angola, Oct 16, 2019 / 12:21 am (CNA).- As a severe drought continues to devastate regions of Angola, the Catholic Church in the country is asking the government to declare a state of emergency, according to Portuguese news agency Lusa.

On Monday, the Angolan government acknowledged a “severe water and grazing crisis” which has affected over 800,000 people in one southern province alone, the Associated Press reports.

Rainfall has been erratic in the southern African nation in the last year, creating what is believed to be the worst drought in at least 20 years.

In late April, UNICEF announced that 2.3 million people in Angola were experiencing a food security crisis due to the drought, including almost half a million children. The UNICEF report found that 2,500 children under age five were treated for severe malnutrition in the first quarter of 2019.

The government’s response to the situation has fallen far short of what is needed, due to lack of funding, UNICEF said.

Amnesty International argued this week that the Angolan government has failed to protect tens of thousands of traditional cattle famers who were driven from their best grazing land to make way for commercial farms.

The organization called on the government to provide emergency food assistance for the farming families, who are now facing near starvation conditions as their traditional way of life has been uprooted, with the drought compounding their difficult situation.

The group also called for an inquiry into how the farmers’ land had been removed from them. Under the Angolan constitution, there must be full consultations before land is removed from a community, a process that Amnesty International says was ignored.

 

In face of California fire, LA archdiocese expands fund for victims

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2019 / 07:24 pm (CNA).- As a large fire continues to burn in southern California, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has expanded one of its support funds for the victims of fires in the area.

The Saddleridge fire, which began about 30 miles from LA, began last Thursday night and quickly forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate their homes.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire was 45% contained, the LA Fire Department said. It has burned more than 8,000 acres, damaging or destroying at least 75 buildings.

In an Oct. 12 press release, the Archdiocese of LA announced the expansion of a special fund set aside for the 2017-2018 Thomas fire, which took two lives and destroyed 1,063 structures. The program offers support through the arhciodese’s parishes and schools.

“This fund was expanded to include those affected by devastating fires since the Thomas Fire and is now expanding to include those affected by the current fires in the San Fernando Valley and throughout Los Angeles and Ventura Counties,” reads the press release.

“Those in need of immediate temporary shelter, food or assistance, can contact the pastor of their nearest parish for help.”

The Saddleridge fire began in Sylmar, a neighborhood in San Fernando Valley, at around 9 p.m. on Thursday. By 7:30 the next morning, the fire spread over 7.3 square miles, jumping over two expressways: the 210 Freeway and the 5 Freeway.

An estimated 1,000 firefighters have been assigned to help combat the fire.

According to LAFD arson investigators, the fire originated in a 50- by 70-foot area below a high voltage transmission tower. Although the cause of the fire is still being investigated, NBC reported, Southern California Edison electric company said their system was “impacted near the reported time of the fire.”

Several other fires are also burning in the region, with at least three total deaths reported so far.

So far in 2019, more than 5,800 fires have been recorded in California, burning some 160,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Last year marked the most destructive wildfire season on record in the state, with more than 8,500 fired burning a total of nearly 1.9 million acres.

In the Oct. 12 press release, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles encouraged Catholics to pray for those affected by the fire and for the first responders.

“Please join me in praying for our brothers and sisters caught in the Saddleridge fires and fires throughout Southern California,” said Gomez.

“We pray for the families who have lost their homes and those who have been evacuated, and all those who are still in danger. We pray especially for firefighters, police and others working to keep people safe and put these fires out. May Our Blessed Mary be close to all of them.”

Film to portray Catholic woman who saved Jewish children in WWII 

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2019 / 06:47 pm (CNA).- The true story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic woman who helped smuggle thousands of Jewish children out of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw during World War II, will feature in a new historical thriller film produced by and starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

Gadot, an Israeli actress well-known for her 2017 role as Wonder Woman, is co-producing the film, “Irena Sendler,” with her husband Jaron Varsano as the first project for their new production company, Pilot Wave.

“As producers, we want to help bring stories that have inspired us to life,” Gadot and Varsano told Deadline. “Pilot Wave will create content that promotes the perspectives and experiences of unique people and produce impactful stories aimed at igniting the imagination.”

According to Deadline, the new film will focus on Sendler’s underground activities and her arrest, and “the drama becomes a race against time to save not only herself but the identities of the hidden thousands who’ll face certain execution.”

Irena Sendler was a 29 year-old social worker for the city of Warsaw when the German army occupied the city in September 1939. Using her connections from work, Sendler did what she could to help the persecuted Jewish people of Warsaw.

A little over a year later, nearly 400,000 Jewish people - almost all of the remaining Jews in Warsaw, and roughly 30% of the total population of the city - were rounded up and forced to live together in a cramped 1.3 square miles called the Warsaw Ghetto.

Conditions in the ghetto were grim - space was crowded, food was scarce, and the sanitary conditions were horrendous. It was sealed by a 10-foot wall with barbed wire on top and heavily guarded by German soldiers to ensure no one could get in or out.

Undeterred in her determination to help the Jews, and risking her own safety, Sendler was able to obtain a permit through her work connections that allowed her to enter the ghetto under the guise of inspecting its sanitary conditions, according to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

In reality, she was working with Jewish organizations inside the ghetto to smuggle out as many Jewish children as she could, who were then placed in either Christian homes or in institutions run by Catholic nuns.

According to The Irena Sendler Project, she was able to get children out of the ghetto in ambulances, or through the still-standing courthouse located on the edge of the ghetto, through the sewage system, and on a few occasions by using dogs. There was also a Christian church next to the ghetto guarded by the Germans, and a Jewish child who could convincingly recite some Christian prayers could sometimes use this as an escape route.

In 1942, Sendler, who went by the underground name of Jolanta, became an active member of the Council for Aid to Jews (Zegota), which helped rescue those still left in the ghetto after mass deportations took some 280,000 Jews to the extermination camp Treblinka.

Sendler eventually became director of Zegota’s Department for the Care of Jewish Children in September 1943, months after the Warsaw Uprising left the ghetto destroyed and thousands more Jewish people either killed or deported. It is estimated that Sendler and her associates were able to save 2,500 Jewish children from the ghetto.

In October 1943, Sendler was arrested for her underground activities and sentenced to death, though members of the underground resistance were able to bribe her prison guards for her release in February 1944. Before her arrest, she had been able to hide any information that would have led to the capture of the Jewish children she had helped to save or the people protecting them.

In 1965, Irena Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem for her life-saving efforts, when she was named one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed on non-Jews for their efforts to help the Jewish people during the Holocaust at great personal risk. She was also granted honorary citizenship by Israel in 1991.

Sendler lived to be 98 and died on May 12, 2008.

Missionary: Married priests in Amazon wouldn't get to the root of the problem

Vatican City, Oct 15, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A South American missionary to Angola who is participating in the Amazon Synod at the invitation of the pope has said the proposal to ordain as priests married men to solve the lack of evangelization in the Amazon is “illusory”.

“Is the lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Amazon a pastoral challenge, or rather is it the consequence of theological-pastoral options that have not yielded the expected or partial results? In my opinion, the proposal of 'viri probati' as a solution to evangelization is an illusory proposal, almost magical, which does not address the real underlying problem,” Fr. Martín Lasarte Topolanski, a Salesian priest, said in a text published by Sandro Magister Oct. 12 in his Settimo Cielo column at L'Espresso.

The Uruguayan priest and missionary in Angola is responsible for missionary efforts in Africa and Latin America for the Salesian congregation. Pope Francis included him among the 33 ecclesiastics he personally called to participate in the Synod on the Amazon.

The text published by Magister is a summary of Fr. Lasarte's Aug. 12 article “Amazonia: Are 'viri probati' a solution?” published in Settimana News.

In his text, the missionary pointed out that the argument that ordaining married men as priests because it is hard to reach remote communities with the ministry “commits the sin of major  clericalism” because it sets aside the work of lay people, believing that the Church where “the 'priest' is not there doesn't function. That's an ecclesiological and pastoral aberration. Our faith, being a Christian, is rooted in baptism, not in priestly ordination,” he said.

As examples he gave Korea, Japan, Angola, and Guatemala, where the laity were essential.

He noted  that the Church in Korea got its start thanks to layman Yi Seung-hun, who was baptized in China and baptized other Catholics. “For 51 years (1784-1835) since its foundation the Church in Korea was evangelized by lay people, with the occasional presence of some priest. This Catholic community flourished and expanded enormously despite the terrible persecutions, thanks to the leadership of the baptized,” Lasarte said.

In the case of Japan, after the martyrdom of the last priest in 1644, priests did not return until 200 years later, finding “a living Church” made up of “hidden Christians.”

Regarding his 25 years of experience in Angola, the priest said that “when the civil war was over in 2002, I had the possibility of visiting Christian communities, which for 30 years did not have the Eucharist, nor did they see a priest, but they were strong  in faith and were dynamic communities guided by the 'catechist,' an essential ministry in Africa (...) A living Church, laity with the absence of priests.”

In Latin America he gave as an example “the Quetchi from central Guatemala (Verapaz), where despite the absence of priests in some communities the lay ministers also had living communities” where the evangelicals “were little able to penetrate.” He said that despite the shortage of priests “it is a local Church rich in indigenous priestly vocations” and “men and women religious congregations of totally indigenous origin.”

In that regard, he noted that in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis pointed out that the shortage of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life is often “due to the absence of contagious apostolic fervor in communities which lack enthusiasm and thus fail to attract.”

“The Holy Father gives the key to the problem. It's not the lack of vocations but the poor proposal, the lack of apostolic fervor, the lack of fraternity and prayer; the lack of serious and profound processes of evangelization,” the Salesian priest said.

Thus with regard to the question why after 200 to 400 years of evangelization vocations are lacking in the Amazon, the priest said that “one of the pastoral problems in various parts of Latin America, and in particular in Amazonia, is the insistence on the 'old ways'. There is a great conservatism in various churches and ecclesial structures, I'm not referring just to pre-conciliar traditionalists, but to pastoral lines, mentalities, that remain stuck  in '68 and in the 1970-1980 decade,” Lasarte pointed out.

The Salesian priest indicated three kinds of “Alzheimer pastoral ministry” which affect evangelization in the Amazon.

The first is “cultural anthopologism,” which originated after the 1971 Barbados Declaration, put together by 12 anthropologists, which “claimed that the Good News of Jesus is bad news for the indigenous peoples.”

Although “from this provocation emerged in various places a fruitful dialogue between anthropologists and missionaries, which served mutual enrichment,” in other places “it fell into a self-censorship, losing 'the joy of evangelizing,” with “cases of religious that decided to not announce Jesus Christ, or give catechesis 'out of respect for the indigenous culture,'” and that “they would limit themselves to witness and service” claiming that this “substitutes for the proclamation.”

The missionary recalled that in Evangelii nuntiandi Saint Paul VI said that “the Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.”

Fr. Lasarte said that the second kind of “Alzheimer pastoral ministry” is “social moralism.” “In more than one place I have heard similar expressions from pastoral workers: 'When people require services they come to us (the Catholic Church), but when they are looking for meaning to their lives, they go to others (evangelicals, etc.)'  It is evident and observable that the church that wants to be a 'Samaritan Church' has forgotten to be  a 'Magdelene Church', a Church providing services that doesn't announce the joy of the Resurrection of the Lord,” he pointed out.

The missionary reaffirmed that the social commitment of the Church and the option for the poorest continues to be “a constitutive aspect of the evangelizing process” and a richness; but “the problem is when this kind of activity has absorbed the rest of the life and dynamism of the Church, leaving in the shadows, silencing, or taking for granted the other dimensions: kerygmatic, catechetical, liturgical, koinonia. We are in an unresolved tension of Martha and Mary.”

He said that the “great hemorrhaging” of Catholics toward evangelical communities has to do with several factors, certainly “the lack of a much 'more religious' pastoral ministry and a 'less sociologized' one has had a very great influence”.

“I visited a diocese where at the beginning of the 1980's, 95% of the population was Catholic, today they are 20%. I remember the comment of one of the European missionaries that systematically had 'de-evangelized' the region: 'We do not foster superstition but human dignity'...I think that says everything,” he said. “The Church is some places has been transformed into a grand manager of services (healthcare, educational, development, advocacy...) but little as a mother of the faith.”

Finally there is secularism. He said, “a church secularizes when its pastoral workers interiorize dynamics from a secularized mentality: the absence or a very timid, almost apologizing, manifestation of the faith.”

He said that the consequences “are reflected in vocational sterility or the lack of perseverance in the path undertaken, because of a lack of deep motivations,” since “no one leaves everything to be a social director, no one dedicates his existence to an 'opinion,' no one offers what is absolute in his life for what is relative, but only to the Absolute which is God.”

“When this theological, religious dimension is not evident, patent, and alive in the mission, there will never exist options for evangelical radicalness, which is an indicator that the evangelization touched the soul of a Christian community,” he pointed out.

To conclude his article, Lasarte said that a Christian community that “does not generate priestly and religious vocations, is a community carrying some kind of spiritual disease. We can ordain the 'viri probati, the honeste mulieribus, the pueribus bonum, but the underlying problems will remain: an evangelization without the Gospel, a Christianity without Christ, a spirituality without the Holy Spirit.”

“Logically in a horizontal vision of the dominant culture, where God is absent or reduced to a few symbolic, cultural or moral concepts, it's impossible to come to appreciate the fruitful spiritual and pastoral value of priestly celibacy as a precious gift from God and of a total and sublime disposition of love and service to the Church and to humanity.”

The Salesian missionary said that “there will only be able to be authentic priestly vocations when an authentic, demanding, free and personal relationship is established with the person of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this may be simplistic, but the way I see things, the 'new path' for the evangelization of Amazonia is the novelty of Christ.”

'Transgender mandate' struck down by federal court

Dallas, Texas, Oct 15, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge struck down the so-called “transgender mandate” on Tuesday, vacating an Obama-era requirement that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon request.

Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas—who had issued a preliminary injunction on the transgender mandate at the end of 2016—struck down the mandate Oct. 15 in the case of Franciscan Alliance v. Azar, after doctors around the country filed suit against the mandate on religious freedom grounds.

“Today marks a major victory for compassion, conscience, and sound medical judgment,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represented plaintiffs that filed suit against the mandate.

“Our clients look forward to joyfully continuing to serve all patients, regardless of their sex or gender identity, and continuing to provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold,” Goodrich said.

In 2016, the Obama administration issued a regulation that would require most doctors throughout the country—900,000 physicians, by the agency’s estimate—to perform gender-transition surgeries upon request, despite any conscience-based or prudential objections.

The rule omitted any clear religious exemption for doctors, and did not allow doctors to refuse a request for surgery if they deemed it harmful to the patient; surgeries would also have had to be performed on children.

The regulation stemmed from Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. HHS interpreted “sex discrimination” under this rule to include gender identity, thus mandating the provision of gender-transition surgeries.

In response to the rule, an alliance of more than 19,000 health care professionals, nine states, and several religious organizations combined in two lawsuits against the mandate, saying that it unlawfully required doctors to, in cases of objection, violate their religious beliefs or the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to the patient. Becket represented the plaintiffs.

In December of 2016, two different federal courts ruled against the mandate, and in May of 2019, the Trump HHS proposed a rule to roll back the inclusion of “gender identity” within the nondiscrimination rule. While the proposed rule has not yet been finalized, the previous regulation was still valid.

Another lawsuit against the mandate, New York v. HHS, is still pending in federal courts.

In other recent cases in California, two Catholic health systems are facing lawsuits from two women identifying as transgender men, who claim that they requested hysterectomies at Catholic hospitals but were denied the procedures.

Goodrich, in a series of tweets on Tuesday, said that two different federal circuit courts—the First and the Fifth Circuits—have said that no consensus in the medical community exists that gender transition surgeries should be mandatory.

“The doctors and hospitals in these cases argued that they shouldn’t be forced to perform procedures that violate their consciences and could harm their patients. The federal court today agreed,” Goodrich tweeted.

Study finds fertility below replacement rate is 'new normal'

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Fertility rates around the world are stalling at below the replacement level, a new study has shown, as countries with higher fertility rates have shown sharp decreases. 

A study from the Institute for Family Studies, authored by Lyman Stone, released Oct. 15, analyzed fertility rates from 2017, 2018, and projected 2019 rates for different regions around the world. Stone found that countries with fertility rates above 1.6 or 1.7 children were seeing decreasing rates over the past decade, but countries with fertility rates below that number were either stabalizing, or even increasing in some areas. 

“Current declines are probably not just cyclical, but likely reflect a ‘new normal’ with most countries having birth rates between 1.4 and 1.9 children per woman,” wrote Stone. 

Analyzing the most recent total fertility rate (TFR) data for each country, Stone found the steepest average annual changes in TFR since 2007 were in Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, and Honduras. The biggest gains were in Mongolia, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia. 

“The figure shows fertility fell the most in the highest-fertility regions, and it rose somewhat in lower-fertility regions. Put in statistical terms, the amount of variation among these 61 countries declined by half between 2007 and 2019,” Stone said.

“What we appear to be seeing is a global convergence around fertility rates of 1.6 or 1.7 children,” he said. 

While fertility rates are trending downward worldwide, Stone wrote that there has been significant progress made on increasing fertility rates in countries that had previously been facing demographic challenges. Japan, for example, now has the highest fertility rate in East Asia, with the exceptions of North Korea and Mongolia. 

“The perception of Japan as an ultra-low fertility, unfriendly-to-families, closed-to-immigration country is increasingly outdated,” said Stone. In order to boost fertility rates, Stone said that the Japaense government become “creative” in incentivizing births, as well as being more open to immigration and migration. 

Conversely, Stone said South Korea’s efforts to boost its 0.92 TFR is “misguided and failing,” and will do so without major changes made to the country’s workaholic culture. 

Elsewhere in Asia, there are other signs of hope. Mongolia, a country which experienced a “baby bust” of decreased fertility following the fall of the Soviet Union, has seen its TFR rebound substantially over the last 14 years. Presently, the Mongolian TFR is around three children per woman, which is an increase by a full child since 2005. Other former Soviet countries have experienced a similar bust-and-boom cycle of fertility rates, that now appear to be leveling off. 

The United Nations lists replacement-level fertility rates at 2.1 children per mother. With worldwide trends seeming to stabilize around 1.6 to 1.7, the long term effects for countries which depend on a large population and tax base to support social programs could be severe, experts have previously warned.

In May of this year, Jonathan V. Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One is Expecting,” told CNA that there were no easy answer for societies facing a clear and steady population decline.

“Immigration offers a short-term solution to the problem of funding entitlement programs for governments, but it doesn’t solve the long-term problem,” Last told CNA.

“In a healthy model you want to see a kind of pyramid shape, with the largest cohort among the youngest people tapering up to the oldest. Relying on adult immigration creates a bulge around the middle, which doesn’t address the underlying problem or future effects of low fertility and an ageing population.”

While some governments have introduced measures to incentivise women and families to have more children, the IFS data indicates that governmental efforts to reduce the number of children born to a woman have proven far more successful than any pro-birth initiatives. 

“In other words, the ongoing global fertility slump suggests that the future human population will be smaller than expected,” said Stone. 

Last said that various policy solutions had been tried in different parts of the world, but without significant effects.

“Governments in all different parts of the world have experimented with policies to try to get people to have more children, but there isn’t any example which demonstrates real success – even in Singapore where the government basically offered $20,000 for people to have a kid, that only goes so far,” Last said.

“The bottom line is that having a child is a heavy lift, and no policy is going to make up someone’s mind to do it.”

‘Life Empowers’: March for Life unveils 2020 theme 

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The 2020 March for Life will honor the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States, promoting a pro-life message of “empowerment” of women and taking aim at the false equation of abortion with independence. 

“Our hope and prayer for this year’s theme,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, at a Tuesday event on Capitol Hill unveiling the March’s 2020 theme, “is that it will be a healing remedy for the wounding and deceptive messages about women coming from the abortion industry and beyond.”

The theme of the upcoming March is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.” Mancini announced the theme during a panel event Oct. 15 with pro-life and feminist leaders on Capitol Hill.

The year 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19thAamendment, which extended the right to vote in the United States to include women. 

Underscoring the link between the significance of the anniversary and the theme of “empowerment,” Mancini told CNA that “we primarily chose it because of the centennial.”

The March for Life is an annual pro-life gathering in Washington, D.C., with participants traveling from all over the country. The march has been held every January since 1974, the year after the Supreme Court found a legal right to abortion in all 50 states in its Roe v. Wade decision.

Joining Mancini on a panel at Tuesday’s event were Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, Gloria Purvis, a radio host and chairperson of Black Catholics United for Life, and Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life.

Abortion is currently “being promoted as essential to women’s freedom, to women’s empowerment, and to women’s progress,” Mancini said on Tuesday, citing the National Abortion Rights Action League’s (NARAL) #ShoutYourAbortion campaign that encouraged post-abortive women to publicly share the details of their abortion so as to normalize it.

Campaigns like NARAL’s aim to turn motherhood—something essential to being a woman—into something “to be ashamed of,” Mancini said. Instead, she said, motherhood is something that is “miraculous” and a “gift.”

“Our theme aims to change hearts and minds, to make abortion unthinkable in our culture,” she said on Tuesday.

The upcoming march will also be held in a presidential election year, a fact not lost on those planning the national pro-life event.

“We need to speak about confusing messages on women,” Mancini told CNA of the organization’s planned message for 2020. “Right now, as we know, none of the Democratic candidates are with us on this issue, and even more, they’re wildly out of touch with mainstream America on this issue.”

“To listen to their many, many, many debates, you come away with a very different understanding about what it means to be pro-woman,” she told CNA.

Speaking Tuesday, Serrin Foster said that “Feminism is a philosophy that embraces the rights of all human beings without exception,” noting that Susan B. Anthony, the feminist most identified with helping secure women’s suffrage in the U.S., was opposed to abortion.

“Those who see no moral problem with the taking of human life see abortion as the great equalizer,” said Victoria Cobb.

Abortion is the fruit of a mentality that sees a woman’s body and the inherent goodness of motherhood as an “enemy,” Gloria Purvis said. Furthermore, it is used as a distraction rather than a solution to the problems of workplace discrimination and poverty, she said.

The language of abortion rights makes a proposal to women akin to “in order to be equal to men in the workplace, you need this abortion,” Purvis said, which is a “deflection” from the need to “help them thrive and flourish in the workplace.”

“We have to make the greatest sacrifice just to be at the table,” Purvis said of women who have abortions because they feel they cannot afford to not work. “That is not being pro-woman.”

Abortion is also used to “deflect from real solutions to poverty,” Purvis said. “Killing the poor is not a solution to poverty.”

While the abortion rights movement is advocating for a woman’s choice without working “to help their struggling neighbor,” those the pro-life movement must look at their neighbor and ask “what is their need and how can I help them?” Purvis said.